By Jennifer Mayerle

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Charles Gilfillan originally made his mark building St. Paul Water Works. But he may best be known for his leadership in agriculture and a farm he bought in southwestern Minnesota.

WCCO-TV traveled to the Gilfillan Estate to learn about the history, and what is happening there today.

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“The Gillfillan Estate has been here for since the turn of the century,” said Friends of Gilfillan president Al Kokesch.

Gilfillan and his family bought and built along State Highway 67 between Morgan and Redwood Falls.

“Actually, they were the leaders in farming on the early days,” Kokesch said. “At one time, they had 10,000 cattle, 10,000 acres. And everything about innovation and new technology, they wanted to be first at it.”

Gilfillan did not have a farming background, and some questioned his methods early on.

“At first they laughed at him and told him he was nuts because he was doing everything wrong,” said tour guide Dolores Berg.

Charles Gilfillan and his home (credit: CBS)

But Berg says they soon came back.

“Many people came to him after they quit laughing and asked advice on how to do certain things, farming, like he was doing,” Berg said.

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She says he was generous with the people who worked on the land and in doing business with local farmers. The home was the center point.

“It’s beautiful, and everything in it is original,” Berg said.

Two generations of Gilfillan’s lived in the historic home. Open for tours, people can see the parlor and living room, filled with pieces the family picked up around the world. The spacious master bedroom upstairs shows stylish period apparel and the balcony offers a view of the grounds. Mrs. Anna Gilfillan left the home to the Redwood County Historical Society.

“That was very important to them to show current people how people used to live,” Berg said. “It wasn’t all these big tractors or fancy machinery that we have now.”

In the distance, people were setting up for Minnesota’s Farmfest, where it has been held for 25 years. Tens of thousands travel there to learn the latest in farming — a testament to Gilfillan’s enduring desire to stay at the forefront.

“Talk about innovation and, you know, technology, and that’s what C.O. Gilfillan, that’s what they were all about,” Kokesch said.

Kokesch, the president of the nonprofit formed to care for the estate, said the Gilfillan’s move to the southwestern part of the state has had a lasting impact. The family held huge community get-togethers. They donated publicly building libraries and care facilities, and gave even more privately.

“It’s not all about making money. It’s about being kind and thoughtful and considerate to your neighbors and the people that you live with,” Kokesch said.

Farmfest is Aug. 7-9. It offers the latest advances in the farming industry. There are also a number of political candidate forums there.

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Click here to learn more about Gilfillan Estate and here to learn about Farmfest.

Jennifer Mayerle